Sunday, April 6, 2014

Graphology Elegiacs 1

‘Ecopoetry’ has become an industry sustainable only in terms of its own definitions of ‘sustainable’, in its eagerness to reflect and speak out on failings aside from its own pathetic fallacies of distance. For this, a new and more virulent ‘irony’ needs introducing into the sanctuary: a balancing act that yields higher degrees of sensibility and hard-edged caring. Nature has become its plaything and reputations are recycled through its portals. Computers are the growth medium, air travel its prana.

John Kinsella

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Conversation with John Kinsella -- questions by Roberto Mussapi

This interview recently appeared in an Italian newspaper, in the Italian language.

Why is poetry necessary?

I believe all poetry is political at one level or another, and as such, poetry for me is a form of activism. As an environmentalist, when I write of the natural world I hope that my insights and ‘ways of seeing’ will contribute to the respect for and protection of ecologies. I am not interested in creating poems that hang as artefacts in museums, but in a living, breathing poetry that engages with the environmental crisis that the world faces. As a poet of landscape who is interested in exploring ‘up close’ the particular characteristics and qualities of a place, I hope to act as witness, to prevent damage being done, to preserve. So poetry is entirely necessary as a means of resisting, for example, the horrors of capitalist exploitation of land, of the pollution and exploitation of industrialisation, and other such examples of greed. My poems see the damage being done, and bring it to the attention of readers. Yet it’s not a case of propaganda, but of letting the images and language of the poems stimulate awareness, curiosity, and investigation. As a vegan-anarchist-pacifist, I have very strong feelings and ideas about how we might respect, conserve and experience the world we live in, especially the natural world, and I find poetry a more effective means of articulating these positions than the process of constantly being arrested and locked up, as I was when I was a young activist. Peaceful resistance still has an important place in my life, but I find poetry has been a truly effective means of communication.

Is there a relation between poetry and hope?

For me, poetry is entirely about hope. I actually once contributed poems to an anthology published by an Icelandic poet, which I think was called something like The Book of Hope. When I draw attention to what I have called ‘the damage done’ — to the exploitations, cruelties, and greed of humanity — it is because I believe that there’s another way, that people don’t have to be those things, and are very often not. Poetry becomes a superb ‘lens’, a way of focussing concern for positive change. I am strongly supportive of indigenous land rights around the world, and I come from a place where the indigenous people have had their land stolen with little if any compensation. Indigenous and non-indigenous poets who draw attention to this wrong (doing so in a variety of ways), have formed an essential part of broader community discourses that raise awareness about these wrongs. All nations want a literary ‘tradition’, and want literature they can show the world: if that literature (and for me, especially poetry), constantly speaks of the wrongs of theft of land, dispossession, inequality and exploitation, as well as speaking of the strength and cultural richness of dispossessed and disempowered communities, then external pressure can bring positive change. No country likes to feel embarrassed by what its writers are saying to the rest of the world. Poetry is all about hope to me. I have seen it stop bulldozers (I wrote an article about this once), and I have used it to help stop developments that would have put rare species of plants at risk. Poetry, for me, is an extension of how we live, and projects into how we might live better.

Can poetry contribute to a renaissance of humankind?

Of course — it always has. In doing my ‘distractions’ of Dante’s Divine Comedy, I tried to connect with one kind of eruption of insight into the torments and delights of the human soul with a need for another such eruption of awareness about the impacts humans have had on the planet. There are criticisms in there, of course, but also celebrations. For me, a new renaissance is an environmental one: if we do not act now to lessen the damage being done, there will be no planet, and no people to renew. Really, we are on the verge of needing a New Classicism which is about a more harmonic relationship with the natural world, and taking as models for art and existence, those from ‘nature’ that have persisted so effectively for so long. Which is not to deny there should be change or ‘development’, but rather, that this change might be more organic and less damaging, more in keeping with the ‘natural’ progress and changes of the biosphere, rather than those being forced at a rapid pace by humans. In this New Classicism is an acceptance that the rapid climate change we are now experiencing is in large part because of human industry and behaviour, and that less industrialisation, less reliance on energy for fuelling devices and other commercial fetishes, will mean a better life for all living things.

Do you think there is a relation between the poetic and the sacred spheres?

For me, poetry always contains a spiritual aspect. I write about spirituality, but I do not belong to any religion. I believe in all religions, and in no religions. I do not think a religious administration can conduct the workings of the human soul — if anything, I think it can take away and diminish the spirit. I have known many good people in various positions of religious authority — people whom I respect — but I cannot respect any edifices of power. As a non-violent anarchist, I am against centralisation and concentrations of power, and too often religion becomes these. Interestingly, many of my favourite poets, from Dante to Milton, have had ‘religion’ as a core concern, so it’s something about which I think and write, but I am always arguing that the human (or animal) spirit needs to find its own direction and its own freedom. Enlightenment can come about in many ways, and most often outside doctrine. Observing the natural world, listening to an old local farmer tell his life, watching the sun rise or set, are for me far more informative than rituals which have become hollow through being enforced and being offered as the ‘right’ way. Sometimes the ‘wrong’ way is more enriching! Poems are rarely perfect, and their ‘wrongs’ are sometimes as informative and spiritual as their ‘rights’. An imperfection in rhythm or prosody in general, something ‘misdescribed’, something misheard or misunderstood, can come across in a poem as a revelation, a new insight. The errors are as important as the ‘correct’ ways of doing things. No structure is perfect; all are worth pulling to bits and rebuilding as long as no living thing is hurt in the process. Vive la différence!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Remembering the great Russian-language poet Regina Derieva, 1949-2013

Epistle to Regina Derieva

In Memoriam

I’m looking at your favourite icon, Regina,
an icon painted by your husband, Alexander,
an image of ‘The Virgin Eleousa’, made for
Discalced Carmelites, that closed and solitary
order, that retreat to awareness and love
where the self dissolves into complexities
of community, devotion and scripture.
Child born with an old head on young
shoulders, travelling the hard miles
from Kazakhstan to Jerusalem, mapping
houses and families, mapping the godless
and the god-filled, baggage heavy with conversion
but carried over borders, declared at every
crossing: a slippage, a parsing, God loud
in-absentia, those ‘distance measures’,
that tinnitus you don’t want to get rid of.
The stars can be so glib in their night skies,
and yet they keep company, work the light.
In translation your words read our words,
words I am as familiar with as my ‘outdoors’,
the birds and animals and plants I see
and note down — remade to grow a familiarity,
to fly in the lines of an icon, a wry liturgy
of making the days count. You still complete
the space we listen for, that telegraphic
whispering across vastness, so much part
of exile, that much-leavened ‘annihilation
of distance’. I can only say ‘God’ in colours:
the vivid reds, illuminating yellows, defining
blues taking comfort in wrapping the world
as we might know it. But it’s the hands that wrap
around a grave, the hollow we fill with lives;
all our flesh, all our people. My wife was once
a Carmelite postulant across the hottest months,
when fire spread within the walls, rare
bush conserved, or a garden spade was thrust
through a boot, a doctor called from the outside,
laughter at the painful absurdity. You’d
get the irony, the grimness, the art —
beyond a photograph, deep in the icon
where your words came from.

John Kinsella

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New book of Activist Poems by John Kinsella

In an increasingly ecologically reactionary Australia (and the rest of the world), one hopes that poetry of protest might contribute to a rethinking of materialistic, selfish and anti-environmental policies and ways of living.

Anyway, on a personal level, the poems in this collection The Vision of Error: A Sextet of Activist Poems, written since 2005, are an attempt to articulate an opposition to consumerism and humanocentric views of "nature". There is also a poem that examines and deplores the death sentence. ("Set" in America, but applying to the issue in a broader sense.)

Keep activist, and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fleeting: a poem by John Kinsella

It’s a three-boat fleet moored at the pier.
Won’t be there long, then off, out to sea, plundering.
The hawsers around capstans with easy knots
are expected to hold, though a wind is rising;
sailors, arms crossed and huddled together, mutter
into each other’s faces. Birds are nowhere,
unlike when smaller boats sail slowly in.

My walk takes me down Ardmanagh Road,
left onto Main Street, then right onto Pier Road
down past Pier Cottages and onto the pier itself.
There’s smashed ice on the ground in front of The Works,
and a pair of freezer trucks wait blankly. Drivers
sit in cars, eating and staring into the harbour,
translating scenery through anxieties.

Or, for the first time today, they are thinking
of nothing. Overlaying thoughts, fusing to zero.
I walk up hacked-out streets to Colla Road
and turn right. Holiday houses. Cottages
with names of birds: swallow, wren, kingfisher...
could be back ‘home’, where in supreme heat
birds with those names gasp along drying rivers.

Winter is coming on and the air is dead fish
and coal smoke. Houses: freshly painted. A tractor
driven by an old man sheds mud and cowshit
as if it’s a reclaiming of something he might
have possessed if his fields had been given room
to spread. Shy locals enfolded in wraps follow
small, brisk dogs. I walk off what I am not;

with no rights of soil, lost rights of parentage,
no rights of nature. I won’t go out on boats that kill fish,
out beyond territorial waters of all countries. Bashed
as a child for being ‘a poof’, bashed as an adult
for being ‘queer’, I am remade in somebody’s image,
remade in my configurings of ‘here’. The ships
sail off the edge of the world, coal smoke

blocks our way to the light. A few twists and turns
and I arrive back home, transcoded. The ‘who’ and ‘what’
are imprinted all over. I wear a thin shirt in coldest
weather — my body has closed off from extremes.
I don’t feel. It will be so cold or so hot I will die before
realising. Rooks are sitting atop chimneys and I know
before I open a door that Tracy will have heard their talk.

John Kinsella

Thursday, November 14, 2013


As Australia is eaten alive by the monsters of industry and their government stooges, we sit back and take it. Many think it’s a good thing, sucking their drops from a planet they’re helping kill. It’s got to be said: it’s brutal and remorseless. Australia worships the God of Sport and the God of mining, and denies consequences (and climate change). Barrow Island and the so-called Gorgon Project (go where you will with the name), are one of many marriages made in Hell. Dante, the world has need of thee. It’s all there. And yet another bite wanted out of an A Class nature reserve. And they’ll get it. Poets and writers in Australia should be spending their time tackling this — it’s a death, the death of language and of the biosphere. No one will be marching in the street over this one. Greed is a relative term.

John Kinsella

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thoughts Regarding Prosody and other Matters

By John, posted by Tracy

I am often trying to reach a prosodic equilibrium between lyric and rhetoric, or, if one prefers, between a gesture to ‘things’ and their quiddity, and a ‘polemic’ or political utterance. I don't want to operate in the ‘passive’ mode in which a lot of ‘nature poetry’ operates — agency is the definitive double-edged ploughshare, it brings humans spiritual and material awareness, but/and it costs everything else. That’s what I am investigating. The question becomes which side of tolerable (for a given reader, I guess), this lyrical-rhetorical weighting falls. Which is not to say I don’t see the ‘pure lyric’ as relevant — in fact, I often dwell, lurk and retreat there — but it is not the only place.

I wrote this manifesto against rapacity early in 2012. Thought it worth posting the link here.

Some time or other I will ask Tracy if she can post the document itself on this blog (thanks, Tracy).

And here’s a translation from French of a great poet from La Réunion. The notes that follow are cribbed from an email I sent to someone when I was translating the poet (I’ve done a bunch of poems) — sourcing/adapting bio information from French sources. I believe this is one of the rare times Auguste Lacaussade — the mid-nineteenth century French poet from La Réunion — has been translated into English. He is an incredible poet and deserves to be read (still). He wrote his poems from afar — schooling in France and looking back to his childhood home on Bourbon, as La Réunion was then known. Later, he returned, but found the racism so hard to deal with that he went back to France (says something). He eventually became quite bitter, and this is reflected in his late poetry. Of both African and French heritage (son of a freed slave woman and a lawyer from a Bordeaux family), Lacaussade resisted slavery on the island and went on to become a very significant French literary figure, though he faded from the limelight and was always (unjustly) in Leconte de Lisle’s shadow. Never made a member of the French Academy, he felt this was due to his ‘mixed-race’ background — no doubt he was right, given the times. A translator of the English Romantics, he has a street and a few schools named after him on the island of La Réunion. Lacaussade is a major poet of place: there’s an intimacy and reflective distance (sure, nostalgia is in there in the configurings or remembered experience as if they are plein-air compositions, but much more... he has his own kind of ‘sublime’ at work).

Auguste Lacaussade’s Le Papillon (The Butterfly)

Your gilded wings, young and stylish butterfly,
Reflect the azured colours of the sky,
You who compete with the breeze’s kiss for flowers
As you pass through the air like a sparkling
Breath, and when dying day’s light is fading,
Sleep upon their fragrant calyxes.

If you see my love, don’t pay tribute to her
Rosy lips as you might the open flower;
Your infatuated eye is permitted this fault;
But I shall be jealous of your supreme happiness:
I alone want to draw from the mouth I idolize
The scents of sensual delight.

translated by John Kinsella

As a postscript, my novel Morpheus is finally out: originally written when I was a 18/19, it’s taken over thirty years to appear. For any of you wanting to join in with the goings-on of Thomas Icarus Napoleon, it’s here.

John Kinsella